In my last blog I invited readers to consider the relational impact of the pandemic. While some things have gone back to a new normal, there is no question that we are still in the throes of this pandemic and may be for a while longer. It certainly takes an emotional toll on us as we continue to deal with anxiety, stress, losses and uncertainties.
Sometimes we may be missing opportunities to make significant contributions to relieving some of that emotional tool for ourselves and others. It can be easy when we face so many of our own struggles to not appreciate when those opportunities present themselves. As we become more aware we may find opportunities all around us that we are missing, opportunities that if ignored may not occur again.
I looked at several definitions of the term “opportunity”. Sometimes opportunities are about finding ways to advance yourself, to become more successful in some way. I suggest that another way to see opportunities involves those moments when we make a decision to do something that is on our moral code list: to be kind, compassionate, supportive, caring, loving, appreciative, generous, thoughtful, encouraging and simply be to available. It means we step outside ourselves; focusing on our own thoughts, feelings, issues and needs – to consider instead what might be going on for another person. In these moments we have the opportunity to provide them with some kind of message that resonates with the items on our moral code list.
Something else that can be a powerful new awareness has to do with the science of altruism, described as “The unselfish concern for other people—doing things simply out of a desire to help, not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons. It involves acting out of concern for the well-being of other people.”
Altruism involves a “devotion to the interests of others; brotherly kindness; selflessness; while compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.”
It turns out that altruism is actually good for us as well as for whoever is on the receiving end of it.
According to Cozolino in his book The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, “Researchers demonstrated that altruism behaviors correlate with greater life satisfaction, longevity, and better physical health. Altruistic individuals report being happier, exhibit fewer mental disturbances, and have fewer negative thoughts.”
He provides some fascinating neurobiological evidence of the power of altruism as it impacts our own brains. He says altruism activates the release of oxytocin and dopamine, the right amygdala which supports attention to the feelings of others, the orbital medial prefrontal cortex influencing a sense of secure attachment, affect regulation and emotional safety, among a host of other things. That’s a lot of neuroscience but it’s impressive to think when we embrace opportunities to be supportive of others it can also be beneficial to us.
Here are a few examples of ways we might embrace some opportunities to be altruistic and compassionate:
- Showing Kindness and Appreciation: expressing warmth and appreciation for someone’s experience, suffering, fears, anxiety, often by acknowledging these.
- Being Gentle and Patient: not rushing someone to say more than they want to, speaking to them in a soft, calm voice.
- Touch and Body Language: make sure your touch is gentle and welcomed. Sometimes the soft pressure of somebody putting a hand on an arm or shoulder is a kind of human contact that is comforting. Smile, gentle eye contact, nod in appreciation and show how much you are attuned to that person.
- Expressing Encouragement and Hope: In challenging times, caring for others as humans to help each other not only survive but thrive. We can show others they are capable and can handle stress and come out on the other side. We can believe in each other.
- Use the Many Ways Available to Us to Connect and Care: Text someone who might appreciate knowing someone else is thinking about them, make a phone call, set up a Zoom meeting, arrange a safe way to meet in person.
I suggest that there are opportunities all around us if we open our eyes to them and embrace what we might be able to do to extend caring and supportive messages along with the actions that communicate those messages. We need to make the decision to stop to look around us in order to discover and then embrace the many opportunities that exist if we choose to look for them.
These also become opportunities for us to model for our children how as human beings we embrace those moments when we can actively demonstrate our moral beliefs be kindness, caring and being loving towards others.
Invitation for Reflection
- Pause to take an inventory of possible opportunities that exist in your world to extend messages of support, caring, the desire to connect, share, exchange stories and just be in a warm relationship with others.
- Consider specific ways you might embrace these opportunities. Commit to taking action to demonstrate how you are embracing these opportunities.
- Decide to be open to other possible opportunities in your day-to-day life to make even momentary connections with others that might give them the positive experience of being cared for.
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute